Screening Room: ‘Okja’

The movies of Bong Joon Ho (The Host, Snowpiercer) keep getting odder and less predictable; mostly for the better. His latest, Okja, is a story about a girl and her pet monster who get ensnarled in a byzantine corporate conspiracy featuring a mad-hatter turn from Tilda Swinton.

Okja opens in theaters and on Netflix on June 28. My review is at PopMatters:

South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon Ho has said that Netflix, the distributor of his new movie Okja, gave him final cut. That’s easy to believe. Because most studios, having spent some $50-odd million on a movie mostly about the relationship between a spunky young girl and her gentle giant pig, would have serious issues with the dark curve balls that Boon throws into a story thrumming with such strong, box office-friendly child-creature empathy. But Netflix is charting its own path in the current chaotic state of theatrical movies and for now, part of that means letting an artist like Boon do just what the hell he wants. (This open-wallet policy also means Netflix bankrolling the likes of Adam Sandler for now, but that’s for a different time.) Given what’s on screen in Okja, this is a welcome development…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘War Machine’

One of the biggest feature film plays yet attempted by Netflix, War Machine is an Afghanistan War satire based in part on Michael Hastings’ nonfiction book The Operators. Brad Pitt (who also produced) plays a hard-charging general loosely based on Gen. Stanley McChrystal, though reportedly his character was eventually fictionalized to avoid legal hassles.

War Machine debuts this week on Netflix and in select theaters. My review is at PopMatters:

Things kick off in 2009, when McMahon, aka “The Glenimal”, charges into Kabul like George S. Patton’s less patient twin. Surrounded by a platoon of intensely loyal hangers-on, McMahon is looking to repeat the success he had decimating insurgent networks in Iraq. A cannier movie would have stood back a bit and allowed the audience to get sucked in by the presence of McMahon’s West Point, Ranger school, Yale graduate, warrior with a degree, armored carapace of confidence before making apparent his pride-blinded cluelessness…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘A Bigger Splash’

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Ralph Fiennes and Dakota Johnson in A Bigger Splash. Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

A rock star on vacation in the Mediterranean with her boyfriend get up to mischief with her old flame and his blonde young tart of a daughter in the newest film from Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love).

A Bigger Splash is playing now in limited release and will probably expand throughout the summer. My review is at PopMatters:

Ralph Fiennes takes A Bigger Splash hostage in much the same way that the late Philip Seymour Hoffman once did, taking over from the likes of Tilda Swinton and Matthias Schoenaerts and even filmmaker Luca Guadagnino. All appear perfectly happy to play along. It’s a game that works beautifully until Fiennes’ motor starts to sputter, and the film’s fragile dramatic structure becomes all too apparent…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ Deserves to Win It All

Ralph Fiennes lives it up while he can in 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' (Fox Searchlight)
Ralph Fiennes lives it up while he can in ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ (Fox Searchlight)

Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel was nominated for nine (count ’em) Academy Awards. There’s no guessing exactly how it will fare up against the competition from Birdman and Boyhood, but it’s easy to say that whatever awards those films don’t get, should be sent Budapest‘s way.

grand_budapest_hotel-posterMy article about the film is at Short Ends & Leader:

Wes Anderson isn’t our greatest living filmmaker; his style is too narrowly defined for such a grand title. We tend to think of our greatest directors as both having a signature style but also being flexible enough to tackle many styles: Howard Hawks could move from urbane comedies to Westerns and epics, Martin Scorsese from urban grit to musicals and children’s’ fantasias, and so on. By contrast Anderson has one style, and each of his films simply refine it. All those twee little trinkets and fussy outfits could drive you mad, were one to watch too many in a row. But as perfectly Andersonian a spectacle as The Grand Budapest Hotel is, it also expands his reach in surprising ways. Being one of the year’s most unique spectacles, it’s also the first Anderson film made up of tragedy as much as it is comedy…

Here’s the trailer:

New on DVD: ‘Snowpiercer’ is Revolution on a High-Speed Train

'Snowpiercer': We'd like a seat in first class, please (Anchor Bay)
‘Snowpiercer’: We’d like a seat in first class, please (Anchor Bay)

snowpiercer-dvdBong Joon-ho is a South Korean director who isn’t a household name in the States but by all rights should be. In his newest film, Snowpiercer, he imagines a quasi-steampunk post-apocalyptic thriller that’s also a handy little morality tale about class inequality.

Snowpiercer is available now on DVD and Blu-ray. My review is at PopMatters:

The physics of Snowpiercer’s futuristic plot are as stripped-down as the backstory is convoluted. Every human being left alive is on board one train snaking across the frozen wasteland. First class is up front, replete with late Roman Empire consumption and a mindset best described as rave-club Borgia. Everybody else is crammed cheek-to-jowl in the filthy back of the train. Those in back want to get up front. All that stands between them are many locked doors, squads of malevolent guards, years of social conditioning, and Tilda Swinton acting like a toothy Margaret Thatcher after one too many gin and tonics…

You can see the trailer here: